Crumbs

Today is one of those days when my brain refuses to focus. Thus, here a couple of thought crumbs that probably need to swept away to tidy things up.

Lightning PawLightning Paw. This spirit beast fox, found in Duskwood, is finally mine as of last night. I have been chasing him, on and off, for a little over a year now. He is found in clumps of bushes around the Raven Hill Cemetery. The clumps he can be found in (you can find coordinates and maps at a number of online guide sites) all have a set of glowy eyes in them.

I don’t have the patience to camp these rare hunter pets, nor to mount a full server-hopping expedition for them. My technique is just to make a few circuits of their areas once a week or so at random times until I get lucky enough to stumble upon them. Sometimes this works well, other times — let’s just say it took me several years to get Skoll and Arcturus. I don’t mind, I am not really an avid hunter pet collector. I generally only implement my check-every-week regimen for a pet that resonates with me for some reason. Usually these are spirit beasts, but sometimes they are just rares (like Terrorpene from Cata).

Anyway, last night I was taking a regular turn around the cemetery in Duskwood, seeing only glowy eyes in all the bush clumps, but when I came to the last clump on my list, there was also a glowy outline hiding there! I had written a simple macro to quickly target and tame him, and within a second two he was mine. Yay!!!

Skinning as a profession. Also last night, while doing one of the kill-a-ton-of-birds world quests on my main (LW and Skinner), once again I realized what a crappy job Blizz has done with the skinning profession. Some asshat was in the same area I was, and they were not skinning the corpses they killed, so I asked if it was ok to skin them. They said sure, then proceeded to refuse to loot any more of them, thereby effectively preventing me from skinning them. 😡

This is only one of the problems with skinning, a gathering profession Blizz just refuses to improve in the same way they did herbalism and mining. I can’t tell you how many times I have killed a mob or a mini-boss that was skinnable, and someone is waiting in the wings to swoop in after I have done all the work and skin the creature before I can click it after looting. Not to mention, in high-skinnable areas like most of the bird flocks in Legion, in the time it takes to skin each mob in a large group, another group spawns, effectively tethering you to that spot.

It really is past time for Blizz to give some attention to skinning as a profession. In particular, they need to configure AoE skinning, multiple-tagging skinning, and the ability to skin even if the corpse has not been looted. As a balance, since currently every animal mob that is killed yields leather, Blizz could lower the rate at which leather can be gathered.

But as it stands, skinning is a bit of an annoying profession to have. Towards the end of an expansion, when leather is plentiful and cheap, it is less of a problem than it is earlier in an expansion when you are trying to level skinning and also gather enough leather to supply your LW or get a bit of gold for other purchases.

Class halls in Legion. Over the weekend I spent some time just doing some world quests and finishing up some odds and ends on my main hunter (like getting Lightning Paw). I had not really played her for several weeks, not even to do class hall missions. Instead, I had been spending my time on alts — primarily druid, mage, and monk. When I went back to my hunter and visited the class hall, I was strongly reminded just how shitty a job Blizz did on this location, and in general just how shitty was the class-specific class hall design.

Once again, class halls were a mechanism whereby Blizz imperiously designated winner and loser classes. If you play a class that has the option for immediate completion of a world quest each day, you are a winner class. You are also a winner class if your class hall has a portal (thus giving you and extra hearthstone) or even a lousy mailbox.

The hunter class hall has none of these amenities. Like other class hall loser classes (rogues, demon hunters to name just two), you must spend your Dal hearth cooldown if you want to visit your class hall and are away from Dal. To add insult to injury — and just to reinforce just how little Blizz thinks of hunters — the hunter class hall serves only mana drinks at th bar, and there are still zero places to even sit. Even though there are benches and chairs scattered about, Blizz threw the design together in such a hurried slipshod way that they neglected to add the option actually sit on these items. I grant you, these are minor and petty complaints on my part, but it all points to a real we-don’t-give-a-shit approach to this design.

At least in BfA, the class hall follow-on (Blizz apparently now requires such a mechanism in all expansions so as to justify the mobile app) seems to be a one size fits all approach, where every class gets the same treatment.

Kind of a short, disconnected post for today. Back Wednesday.

The real Q&A

Despite my snarkiness in my last post, I thought the Q&A yesterday was relatively informative. There was surprisingly quite a lot of what I think of as “real” information as opposed to the kind of blather that is nothing more than an infomercial. If you have an hour with nothing else to do, check out the video yourself either directly on Twitch or via MMO-C here. With that, let me get started on my observations.

PTR is now live. The first announcement was a bit of great news — the PTR is now live for Patch 8.0. That is, now anyone can go up on the PTR and experience the pre-expansion patch, which as usual will contain everything new in BfA (stat squish, new profession system, War Mode, class changes, pre-expansion event scenario, etc.) except for the new zones and content-specific quests. I did not get a chance to check out the PTR yesterday after the Q&A, so I don’t have any firsthand information on it yet, but if you have specific questions I recommend you step in and give it a spin.

When 8.0 does go live (I am guessing in about a month), there will be a few things that have to be adjustment for you. For example, the tier and legendary bonuses will still work, but not the artifact actives. So if you are, say, a BM hunter, and have gotten used to working Titan’s Thunder into your rotation, that will be gone. Same with all the active artifact spells such as Sheilun’s Gift for mistweaver monks and the totally awesome New Moon for balance druids. (Seriously, what is cooler than dropping a moon on the head of your enemy?) Some of these have gone baseline for a few specs, but generally they are compensated for in other, mostly passive, ways.

Flying in BfA. Look for the BfA Pathfinder requirements to be pretty much the same as they were for Legion. Translation: No chance of getting flying until probably sometime around March 2019 at the earliest. Blizz will again gate the requirements behind faction rep, doing a certain number of world quests, and exploration of every nook and cranny of all the new zones, as well as withhold the final Pathfinder parts until a certain patch (8.2??).

Recall that Blizz started the whole Pathfinder mechanism back in WoD, when they were forced to back off their disastrous announcement that there would henceforward never be flying in any new zones. There was such a backlash over that, that they had to hurriedly come up with some way to put off WoD flying while they scrambled to make the zones flyable. So they invented the Pathfinder quest line, along with gates designed to ensure no one would get the ability before Blizz wanted them to.

I don’t actually mind the Pathfinder questlines, by the way, but my point here is that if you are leveling a new character that is not part of an account where one character has already unlocked flying, you must still do the Pathfinder quests for every zone they exist in. That means, in theory, that 5 years from now you will still have to unlock all the rep, exploration, and so forth in Draenor, in Broken Isles, in Battle for Azeroth, and in all expansions up to whichever one is current if you want to be able to fly in those zones.

Thus, an interesting question in the Q&A was, will Blizz stop requiring Pathfinder for older expansion zones such as WoD? Ion, as is his wont, punted on the answer, giving his usual not-at-this-time-but-maybe-sometime-in-the-future-soon™-we-might-start-to-think-about-it. Just my opinion, but I suspect by the expansion after BfA we will start to see Pathfinder going away in the earlier zones like WoD and Legion.

There was, however, a good bit of dissembling going on with Ion’s answer. He bleated on and on about not wanting to “devalue the effort” of completing Pathfinder in every expansion, and that “Draenor was designed for ground-based leveling so you don;t need flying to level there”. Well, yeah. But come on Ion, why not admit that the real answer is that for some reason you have decided that leveling should take a lot longer than it used to (do I smell MAU metrics here?), and allowing flying in a shorter time would not serve that goal.

Class Balance. Bottom line is, what you see on the PTR is largely what you will get for your class and spec. There are very few large changes planned at this point. Blizz is aware of some problems but will address them either by numbers tweaks between now and August 14 or leave those changes for 8.1.

After listening to Ion on this, I remain concerned that Blizz is rather deliberately making winner and loser classes, especially when it comes to raid and group utility. They keep blathering on about how they want each class to “feel special”, yet only a few classes are “special” enough to always be sought out for groups. That is, only a few classes have truly unique utilities — such as battle rez or innervate — and many other classes either have nothing or some lesser version of the sought-after utilities. When this trend is combined with Ion’s fixation on the idea that some classes should be sought after for certain fights (bring the class not the player), it does not bode well for the also-ran classes. Unfortunately for me, I think hunters are one of those. Ion can say all he wants about fitting your strategy to your team, but the reality is that, once there has been a “school solution” to certain fights, it will be well-nigh impossible for classes who are not part of that solution to find pugs willing to take them.

What this means, I think, is choose your main class and spec with care for BfA. If you love playing a certain one and don’t care that it may not be one of the favored ones, go for it. On the other hand, if high numbers, lively play style, and being able to easily get into groups are important factors for you, then spend some time figuring out which classes/specs will do that for you in BfA — it may not end up being your current main.

On the plus side, I was heartened to hear that Blizz understands they went too far with spec identity in Legion, and they want to return to overall class identity. Whether they will achieve this goal or not remains to be seen.

War mode. This new world PvP system is part of patch 8.0. The basics are that there will be no more PvP or PvE servers, there will only be Normal and RP ones. On all servers, you can toggle PvP mode on while in your faction capital city. When you do so, you will be transferred to a shard where everyone has also toggled PvP mode, thus making your location a PvP sever. The difference between RP and PvE servers is that currently RP servers do not involuntarily transfer players to other shards (except in extreme overload situations), so as to keep group integrity better for RP purposes. In 8.0, if you toggle War Mode on an RP server, you will stay on your own shard from your RP server. If you join a group, the group will join your shard, you will not be involuntarily transferred to a different one.

I was pleased to hear Ion explain a bit more about the perks awarded for doing War Mode in patch 8.0. Basically, players in War Mode will earn slightly more gold from world quests, and if they are leveling they will get fast xp than in PvE mode. Ion commented that the reason for this is that PvP players often get forcibly diverted from questing, and the extra gold and xp is a way to compensate for that. Ion said the team is paying a lot of attention to balancing this — they want to make sure PvP is not unduly punishing players who choose it, while at the same time they absolutely do not want the bonuses to be so lucrative as to make PvE players feel pushed into PvP.

Mythic Raiding. Who cares, really. BfA will implement some world ranking system that should result in cross-realm mythic raiding being unlocked sooner. Whoopee. 🙄

Mythic+ Dungeons. For me, another who-cares item. Players will not be able to switch out gear in BfA M+ dungeons, what they start with is what they will use for each. But the interesting takeaway for me from this whole M+ Q&A discussion is the sheer number of changes and “anti-exploit” measures being put into place in BfA for M+. This only means that these are going to be a major esports venue for WoW as we go forward, since nearly all the changes are targeted towards high-end min-maxxers.

Catch-up AP in BfA. There will be one, just as there was one for AP in Legion. Interestingly, in BfA Blizz is reversing the approach. In Legion, the amount of AP required to buy more artifact upgrades increased exponentially, and the catch-up mechanism was that you could earn geometrically-increasing amounts in order to get that AP. In BfA, you will earn Azerite at a constant rate, but the cost of the gear traits will go down periodically. Both systems work for catch-up, but the BfA method means we will not be faced with ridiculously high numbers for traits (over a trillion AP for some people with high artifact levels.)

Anyway, that was it for the Q&A. (There was some more PvP stuff but I pretty much tuned that out.) I think in general it was a decent hour. One of the most positive big takeaways for me is that I am beginning to believe Blizz is sensitive to the grindiness and tedium many of us disliked in Legion, and they do seem to be taking some steps to make that less of an issue.

And with that long, wordy post, let the weekend begin. See you on the other side.

Battle for Azeroth – more observations

Look at the title – if you don’t want to know, don’t read.

Yesterday I spent several hours on the Battle for Azeroth beta with my copied main BM hunter. In general, it was a positive experience (with some reservations). I took my time, but even so it only took me about 8 hours to get to level 112. Along the way I noted a few things.

Artwork. Once again, I think Blizz has outdone themselves in the artwork for this expansion. Prepare to be blown away with the detail and variation of the new zones. Towards the end of Legion, it struck me that Blizz was pretty much just mailing it in when it came to Broken Shore and Argus — feel pools, lava, and rocks seemed to be the extent of their effort. But Kul Tiras is rich, varied, and there has been a great deal of attention to detail. With the exception of my first “foothold” mission, I have not quested in the Horde starter zones of Zandalar, but from what I have seen, those areas, too, are exceptional.

I won’t deny that some parts of the new zones look suspiciously like recoloring of existing areas (is Boralus really just Suramar City reskinned?), but at least if that is the case, it has been done well. On a personal note, I am dismayed by what seems to be too many dark, gloomy regions — I prefer bright, sun-filled ones — but that is a personal preference, not a flaw in the artwork.

Intro scenario. The introduction to Battle for Azeroth — basically what everyone will be doing initially on launch day — is similarly well done. As most of you know, I am not a lore person, but to me the story was well told, hung together, and serves well as an introduction to the factors that will be recurring themes as BfA unfolds. And there really are some fun bits, including piling into mechanical devices and mowing down vast swaths of mobs.

It is, however, quite long and drawn out. As with most mechanics, it is interesting the first time through, but I think will not wear well at all more than once. I hope Blizz will offer a vastly abbreviated version for players’ alts once they have taken one character completely through it. As it is, even in the beta, they have given players the choice to skip the additional introduction to Kul Tiras — if you do that plus the first (currently mandatory) scenario, it is at least a couple hours before you can even start questing for real.

Handy and not so handy supplies. By all means, stock up on Goblin Gliders before you start. They work in BfA and are exceptionally useful when you need to get to a distant point below where you are — they really can cut down on travel time under the right circumstances, and there seem to be a lot of those circumstances.

Also go ahead and bring your special foods, flasks, and potions from Legion. I don’t know how long they will be effective in BfA, but they certainly are helpful at least during early leveling. I think a half stack of each would be plenty, but if you use them a lot then a whole stack might be better. They will end up at some point just being vendor trash anyway.

Do not bother with the crafted leather bardings that keep you from being dazed off your mount in Legion. They do not work in BfA. I learned this the hard way. Also, that handy little Lightforged Augment Rune you can buy from the Army of the Light in Antorus changes to be ineffective above level 109. I did not try the regular consumable Augment Runes, but I assume they are the same. You won’t need them, get rid of them.

Gear. If you are fairly well geared in Legion, your gear should last several levels in BfA before you will need to equip most gear drops from quests. The exception is your Azerite gear, which you get very early in the introduction quests.

For those of you unfamiliar with the special gear in BfA, it works very basically like this: Early on you get a neckpiece, the Heart of Azeroth, that you will keep the entire expansion. Its function is to absorb Azerite as you obtain it through various means. (The neckpiece itself seems to increase in ilevel rather automatically.) Once it absorbs a certain amount of Azerite, it will empower a new trait in one of the pieces of actual Azerite-powered gear you will collect.

You get an early quest that awards one piece of Azerite gear — you can pick helm, shoulders, or chest (I think). So your first accumulations of Azerite will go to empower the traits on this piece of gear. Like the neck piece, you will likely keep this piece throughout the expansion. Other pieces (up to a total of 3 equipped) are eventually obtained through raids and dungeons as loot. (It’s not clear to me yet if you can actually obtain more than 3 pieces and equip only 3, or if switching them out is a good idea even if you can.)

So, on a simple level, what BfA does is automate the legion AP/artifact mechanisms and spread them out among 3 pieces of gear plus an enabler piece. The neckpiece really is just a way to keep track of Azerite, and it eliminates the need to actually collect AP gizmos and click on them. The amount of Azerite needed for gear traits will of course increase exponentially with each trait, just like the AP requirements in Legion. Your action bars will include a tweak to the AP/artifact bar that will keep track of how long until your next Azerite trait upgrade.

If you want more detailed information on this gear in BfA, check out the Wowhead guide on it.

Your artifact weapon will transfer to BfA with you, basically as just a weapon with a relatively high ilevel.

The other gear thing to be aware of is how legendaries seem to work. Your legendaries will also transfer with you, again as gear with relatively high levels. But unlike artifact weapons, legendaries do retain at least some variation of their unique abilities from Legion. (Up until level 115, I believe.) So do tier pieces. So as you prepare for BfA you may want to give some thought to the relative value of legendary and tier bonuses, and how important these are to you in the early stages of leveling. Once you have decided that, then factor in that you will get one major piece of Azerite gear right away, and you will want to decide how or if that requires you to restructure your equipped Legion tier and legendaries.

As I said, I reached level 112 fairly quickly. My ilevel going in from Legion was 964, with 4-pc tier 21. So far most of the quest gear is just vendor trash for me, except of course for the Azerite piece and the neck piece. Towards the end of level 111 I did get a piece that made me dump one piece of tier, and I suspect by the time I reach 113 I will be replacing my Legion gear more often. Obviously, my lesser-geared alts will start dumping gear earlier.

Professions. As I suspected, if you start BfA with level 800 professions, it looks like Blizz will give you credit for the now-separate profession leveling from other expansions. The beta still has a few profession bugs in it, but that’s what it looks like. You will level to 150 (or 155??) for BfA, so even though it is a bit of a surprise to see your profession start at level 1 again, it seems like it will be a reasonable change. Gathering professions seem quick, and I am somewhere around 135 already on my skinner. No clue yet if herbalism and mining will be as fast. I have not yet done any leatherworking quests, although I do already have a couple in my quest list. So I don’t yet have a feel for how long and involved they may eventually be.

BM hunter. This post is not really about hunter specifics, but so far I think the experience is a mixed bag. On the one hand, BfA does seem to give us more decision options and thus more interesting play, but honestly most of that comes from an automatic switch to what we used to call the Dire Frenzy build in Legion.

Overall, the addition of  global cooldowns to hunter shots/commands that have not had them makes the play style seem somewhat clunky and slow, even given that BM hunters have all instant casts. The global cooldown going from 1.0 sec to 1.5 sec unhasted makes it even worse. Things that were off the GCD in Legion — like Bestial Wrath — are now on it, and I was amazed at how much slower and clunkier this change makes BM play seem.

The other really crappy thing about talents is the Hati replacement talent, Animal Companion. This simply has to change before BfA goes live, because as it now stands it is pretty effing useless. The additional pet has no pet special abilities (does only auto attack), does not share in Beast Cleave or Bestial Wrath, appears a few seconds after your main pet is summoned, has major pathing problems, seems to be back to the ambling mode when going to a target, and does not even camouflage itself when you do (resulting in unintended pulls).

I said it simply must change, but unfortunately we all know Blizz does not give a rat’s ass about hunters — especially BM hunters — and thus I would bet a week’s worth of gold that nothing will change. What we have is what we will get, because Blizz is clearly back to the mode of being pissy about getting pressure to give us some semblance of our artifact abilities — which they have happily and willingly done for many other classes, I might add — so they have reverted to their standard approach best summarized as, “Oh, ALL RIGHT! There. Now you got Hati so sit the eff down and shut up.”

Blizz remains uncomfortable with giving BM hunters any significant pet power, despite their fancy words on how committed they are to class and spec “fantasy”. Well, except for making Beast Master hunters actual masters of beasts, that is…..

Okay, that is enough bitching for a Monday. Overall, I am relatively pleased with what I have seen about BfA. I have not yet tried any War Fronts or Islands, but the leveling process seems solid. Of course, the initial leveling in any expansion is one of Blizz’s best design features, so we will see how the expansion eventually unfolds. I hope they learned a lesson about the eternal AP grind in Legion and will make the Azerite-gathering more pleasing in BfA. Of course we will have to grind it throughout the expansion — how else will they keep their MAU metrics going? — but maybe, fingers crossed, they have figured out a way to make it seem less onerous.

Battle for Azeroth developments

Spoiler Alert: Don’t read this if — oh what the hell, it’s not like I’m giving away the ending to The Sopranos or anything.

I don’t know about you, but the news from Blizz on Battle for Azeroth has seemed to me to alternate between fire hose and last-trickle-of-water-from-the-canteen levels. The last day or two has been the former. So let me dig in with a few comments, in no particular order.

Battle for Azeroth will launch at exactly the same time everywhere on earth. No more chance for anyone to whine that Blizz loves EU or NA or whatever best. Specifically, it will launch at 3PM Pacific time on August 13th, which because of the Prime Meridian or Vasco da Gama or sidereal slant or something is actually August 14th in some parts of the world, which in spite of it sounding like being a day later is exactly the same time as August 13th, and now my head hurts. Anyway, just accept it on faith that there will be a simultaneous launch of BfA everywhere on the planet.

Not to sound too much like a pessimist or to put any ideas into anyone’s head, but holy moley does this sound like a golden opportunity for hackers to earn their wings by bringing down the entire game all over the world. And while Blizz has made some respectable strides over the past couple of years in fending off mass denial of service attacks, this announcement just feels like they are taunting the evil-doers in the world. And, let’s be honest, even if there are no successful outside attacks, Blizz has in the past demonstrated their own genius for crashing their servers their very own selves under heavy use.

Outside of the potential for technical disaster, many players are welcoming this simultaneous-launch announcement. For me, in Virginia, it means BfA will launch at 6 PM on Monday August 13th. I am strangely annoyed by this, even though probably lots of people would love it since it might mean they will be home from work and not have to call in “sick” *cough cough snuffle snuffle*.

Why don’t I like it? Well, sort of personal tradition. I have mentioned before that on launch day I really get a kick out of getting up around 1 or 2 AM, brewing a pot of coffee, getting on voice chat with guildies, and munching cereal while we all indulge our inner children by gleefully anticipating the launch like kids just before Christmas. We always joke about how many of us are still in our jammies, and of course there are the inevitable references to “Ummm, yeah, sure, ‘jammies’…”

To think this year it will mainly be a matter of scheduling dedicated computer time late in the day just does not seem as exciting for some reason. I know Blizz thinks this is a technological breakthrough for them, and I suppose if they can pull it off it will be hailed as such, but for me I feel like they have taken the specialness out of it. Maybe if they had stuck to simultaneous launch with something like 4 or 5AM Pacific time as the benchmark rather than the very mundane 3 PM… I guess they did not want to have to pay premium night rates to their techs, who knows.

Also big news is that today’s BfA beta build will finally allow character import, something many have not-so-patiently waited for now for a couple of weeks. I don’t think it is that big of a deal, personally, but it does allow some advantages. For one thing, it will mean we can see how level-800 professions transfer to the new profession system, rather than just experiencing what it is like to start a new profession in BfA. Also, presumably, a character’s mounts and pets will finally be available instead of the generic few allowed to this point. Possibly also a character’s transmog will now be visible instead of the hodgepodge look the generated characters have.

We will see the BfA effects on our regular character’s stats and legendaries. People used to several million health, high numbers for secondary stats, and a gear level at 950 or even higher will see all these numbers significantly squished. Similarly, people used to doing, say 1 or 2 million damage will see numbers far lower. Blizz has done this before, of course, so we should be used to it, but for some it is a big shock.

Of somewhat more interest to me is how Blizz will handle the stat squish in the pre-expansion patch, when we will still technically be in Legion. It might be easier to deal with now that there is widespread dynamic leveling technology in the game, but I suspect there will still be a large number of bugs — getting killed by a single imp, for example, or trash single-shotting the whole raid.

And not exactly BfA-specific, but what the hell is it with Death Knights? It seems like every time Blizz announces any change to classes or talents, there is like a page and a half of DK changes, and other classes will have one or two lines if that. I am talking about every single time, for a couple of years now. Sheesh, it’s like the infinite monkeys with typewriters thing — eventually you would think Blizz would get DKs straightened out, even if by sheer random fumbling.

Though I have not run any hardcore numbers, I am still hopeful for the future of BM hunters in BfA. I admit I hate the one-size-fits-all pet changes, and I am pretty pissed that Blizz promised us Tranq shot again then pulled it away, and that they hugely nerfed binding shot. Also, it strikes me that all the hunter “raid buffs” are pretty skimpy. They seem to be just backups in case the raid does not have any of the “real” classes that provide them. There seems very little unique to BM hunters (except possibly for PvP with Master’s Call), certainly not enough that would cause raid leaders to think of hunters in any way except as some added dps, and probably fairly mediocre dps at that. If, as Blizz claims, they want to put more emphasis on what makes a class unique, I am just not seeing that for hunters. If we do not bring any unique and useful raid buffs, then it seems to me that our value would need to be in top damage numbers, but so far anyway that does not seem to be the case.

(And not for nothin’, but what exactly was so terrible about Aspect of the Fox, the hunter-unique raid buff back in WoD that lasted approximately 20 minutes before Blizz — horrified — realized they had mistakenly given hunters an actual useful raid buff and quickly eliminated it. Whew! Any semblance of hunter raid uniqueness was narrowly averted, but it was a close call!)

Nevertheless, I have seen enough incremental changes to BM hunter for BfA to be just a tiny bit hopeful the spec will be viable.

Last but not least, if character copy is now available on the beta, that tells me the PTR cannot be far behind, which is a good thing. It will not be long before we hear Blizz plead for a lot of PTR logins so they can give the system a decent stress test. One hopes it will be sufficient to let them work out the inevitable crash points we are likely to encounter the day the entire world logs in to Battle for Azeroth.

With these scattered thoughts, it is time for a weekend. See you on the other side.

I am NOT prepared

Panic buttonIn guild talk last night, someone pointed out it is 10 weeks until Battle for Azeroth goes live. I know that sounds like a lot of time, but when I began to mentally list the things I want to get done before then, my brain began to yammer, “Sound General Quarters! AWOOOOGA! AWOOOOGA!”

BfA release in 10 weeks means we will likely see the pre-expansion patch about a month before the new expansion, or 6 weeks from now. For me, the pre-expansion patch is the effective end of the current expansion, because that is when I make the adjustments to become familiar with the class changes — change out WeakAuras as necessary, take a look at the numbers behind secondary stats, and spend time at the target dummies to develop some new muscle memory. Then I follow this with a few LFR or guild runs through some of the raid tiers to be fairly proficient when the new expansion drops.

But before I start this whole process, I like to feel each of my characters is as caught up in the game as possible. That usually means:

  • Banks and bags are cleaned out and tidied
  • Professions are maxed
  • Gear level is as high as possible for as much as I play each one
  • The spec is the one I expect to level with in the next expansion
  • Any important achievements are done (example in Legion: class mount)

As you might imagine, while this list is not very long, it has a lot of what we used to call “implied missions” for each item. For example, to know which spec I want to level with for each character, I need to do some research to get a few hints about what might be the most fun and/or “best” spec in BfA. That will include some reading as well as a few beta (or soon PTR) test runs in order to decide. Maxing professions would seem to be straightforward, but it almost always involves switching a few around, and of course it takes time to level these new ones up. That is if I decide to level them up — they can still take full part in BfA professions without leveling them up now.

Cleaning out bags and banks is nothing more than tedious. Usually I do not do it far enough in advance to make any real gold in the auction house, what with everyone else cleaning out their stuff, too. So it generally involves a lot of vendoring and mailing around. The mailing occurs when I decide which alt should be the main keeper of whatever mats I decide to save. Sometimes it is obvious, other times not so much. My main hunter is a LW/skinner, but honestly she has so much other junk in her bank that it is not feasible for her to keep all the current leather along with stocks of classic leathers that come in handy. So those go to my bank alt.

I would really love to see an account-wide shared bank tab in this game, but it does not look like it is in the cards any time soon. It would save so much tedious busywork. You would not, of course, be able to put soulbound items in there, but everything else would be so great to have access to by everyone. And while I am on the subject, it seems like it is time to end the small-guild restrictions on bank tabs. (I am talking about the single-member guilds many of us have just for our bank alt.) Why not allow more tabs for these guilds — go ahead and charge the same as for regular guild additional tabs? I suspect it has something to do with meta-storage in the servers, but still it would go a long ways to improving quality of life for many players.

Of course, the other big thing I still need to do is decide what my main will be in BfA. In all likelihood I will end up still as a BM hunter, but for the first time ever I am seriously considering a class switch for main. At this point I have narrowed it down to druid (balance/resto), monk (windwalker/mistweaver), or mage (pick a spec). While WW monk is fantastically fun to play in BfA, our guild already has too many melee raiders, and in the final analysis I really prefer ranged play. I have not looked into MW monk for BfA, so I do not know if that would be a decent raid option if I went with monk as a main.

I really enjoy resto druid play — the mobility strikes me as sort of a hunter style, which I like. But I am not sure about Balance changes in BfA — the one thing I have always hated about them is the excruciatingly long cast times for most spells, combined with the wimpiness of the small number of instant casts. Clearly, more research is needed on my part.

My mage — well, I have got her to artifact level 75 in all specs, and I find each of them engaging to play, though I would say fire is far and above my favorite, followed by frost, with arcane a somewhat distant third. At least in Legion, both fire and frost have quite a lot of mobility, but I have not rolled a mage in the beta yet, so I have no clue what may change, if anything. (My bet is no major changes, since it is well known that Blizz loves mages best!)

Still, if I had to bet, I would bet I will keep my hunter main for BfA. It is, after all, the class I love best in the game and the one I have loved ever since I started to play. But it doesn’t hurt to at least consider a different path.

So, while it may not be quite time yet to push the panic button, my finger is definitely hovering over it. We rally have only about 6 more weeks of Legion left before 8.0 is released. At that point for all practical purposes we will have begun Battle for Azeroth. So much to do, so little time!

End game games

The last week or so I have been working on making my Void Elf mage actually viable for end game play. I have come to the conclusion that it is a seriously flawed process in Legion, and I fear the general framework will be repeated in Battle for Azeroth.

OK, let me explain.

First, it has always been the case that once you reach max level in an expansion there are some things left for you to do in order to reach “real” max level — higher level gear, that one special weapon, maxing out professions, progressing through raid tiers and/or PvP stuff, maybe getting some mounts or high level achievements. For many, these end game activities are where most of the game’s fun are, and I tend to agree. Once you have done these, you probably consider the expansion to be over, and you move into whatever your end-of-expansion game mode is — messing with alts, farming gold, unsubscribing for a bit, or just pulling back on your game time.

But Legion seems to have thrown in an entirely new leveling process, between reaching max character level and being “ready” for real end game activities. Think about it — once you reach 110 and before you are really prepared to do end game activities like raiding or M+ dungeons, you need to:

  • Increase your ilevel (this is not new)
  • Farm AP to get your artifact weapon to a high enough level to select relic traits
  • Do the Broken Shore and Argus quest lines to be able to farm higher AP tokens and gear rewards.
  • Do most of your class hall quest line in order to complete things like the BS and Argus quest lines, and in order to have the right number and level of champions to do the required missions for BS/Argus completion, and so as to be able to equip 2 legendaries.
  • For some classes and professions, you have to do at least part of the Suramar quest line.
  • Chase legendaries until you get two adequate ones

It is really only after you have done the things listed that you are truly ready for Legion end game. Blizz has indeed introduced — I guess in the name of “content” — a new tier of requirements in order to get to the end game, call it “Leveling Stage 2”, after initial leveling. It is a stealth leveling requirement.

Worse, the requirements for this new leveling tier are confusing and they vary according to class. In typical fashion, Blizz has opted to leave them a tangled, obscure mess, and instead left all user help in the hands of third parties. I defy anyone to go through the processes listed above without consulting any outside guide or assistance from friends/guildies, even if you have already done it once.

Of course, depending on their end game goals, not every player needs to go through all the steps above. But, again, without a lot of outside guidance, it is impossible to know which steps are required for a certain goal and which ones may be skipped. How many times have you wanted to start a quest line that you are interested in, only to be unable to start it until you figure out which quest line or achievement is a prerequisite for it, and then have to go back and find out how to finish that one before you start the one you are really interested in? (And holy moly, was that ever a run-on sentence!)

The LS2 process, I maintain, is deliberately confusing and vague, so as to squeeze out more MAU over the course of the expansion. Blizz does not want players to know exactly what they must do next in order to play for their own expansion goals. They want players to spend time chasing unimportant (to the player) quest lines. And the longer it takes a player to feel like they have finally reached their end game, the longer they consider the expansion viable.

I suppose, just as societies become more complex and thus extend the length of childhood and young adulthood, so too WoW becomes more complex as it ages and thus extends the leveling process. Or maybe Blizz is just playing (end) games with us. I don’t know. But I do know that Legion has given us the virtual equivalent of teenage years, where we are neither still leveling, nor ready for real end game activities.

Token musings

Anyone who has relied on purchasing WoW tokens in the auction house as their way of paying for game time is well aware of their current high cost. When it was first introduced three years ago, the price in North America was pegged at 30,000 gold. It rapidly sank to around 18-20k and hovered at that level for well over a year. Now, the cost is over 200k. (It has always been significantly higher in European and Far East realms.) The real money cost, meanwhile  — $20 in the U.S. — has not changed. This means that the real exchange rate between dollars and WoW gold has gone from $1 for 1000g to $1 for 10,000g. In other words, the Blizz-sanctioned “price” of gold has taken a nosedive, while the gold price of game time has undergone huge inflation.

The token system also allows us to gauge the real world cost of gear and mats. For example, when tokens sold for 20,000 gold and the most expensive mount in the auction house was approximately 200,000 gold, that meant the mount cost about 10 tokens, or $200. Pretty pricey, imo, but the token system enables you to make those kinds of equivalencies and cost computations. These days if you buy a mount or piece of gear for a million gold, you can consider that to be a real world cost of about 5 tokens, or $100. Of course, not everyone actually pays the $100 directly, but still it gives you a way to make cost comparisons not bound by game economy inflation.

Which leads me to mention a rather remarkable forum exchange in the Blizz forums. Basically, the original poster posited that the cost of the token would soon skyrocket because Blizz just announced that it could be used to pay for the very popular Call of Duty game. I have no idea if that is an accurate prediction or not. The Blizz Blue poster pooh-poohs the idea, and he may also be right.

But what I found interesting about the forum exchange was the number of Blue posts it brought forth, and the insight we now have into the token mechanisms as a result of the posts. It is actually quite fascinating. (If you do not want to scroll through all the forum pages to find the Blue posts, they are extracted here on MMO-C.)

So what did we learn from them? Well, mainly Blizz reiterated that the token system is not completely market driven, that Blizz intervenes as they deem necessary to keep the token prices from fluctuating wildly and to keep the overall game gold economy on an even keel. We have known this from the start, of course, but now we have a tiny bit more insight into exactly how Blizz does it, and more importantly how they see the overall WoW economy.

Blizz’s underlying theme on the tokens is that they are a net zero in terms of the overall game gold supply. That is, within the game, a seller gains gold but only because a buyer transfers that gold to them. This is true, but as one forum poster pointed out, there is a cumulative effect on gold distribution within the game. The poster did not elaborate much on this theme, but I think it has some pretty noticeable consequences, mainly that the people with a lot of gold soon become the population that most controls which items in the economy are important for trade and which ones are not. What they will buy dictates what the cash-starved players will gather and craft, which in turn drives up those prices and drives down the prices on wealthy players’ undesirable items. Even if the token system is a net zero for gold supply, it eventually has a big effect on the economy.

Within the population of players, there are those who have real world money but not a lot of spare time, and there are those who have a lot of time but not a lot of real world money. The token system basically means that the “wealthy” players buy a month’s worth of game time for the cash-starved players, at a hefty 33%  increase for Blizz ($20 for a month’s game time as opposed to the standard $15). In return, the cash-starved players convert their time into gold that they give to the wealthy players. It is an ingenious system, and in principle, everyone wins.

However, over time and much like in actual capitalist economies, we start to see greater and greater imbalances in wealth distribution. People with real world cash get to the point where they have enough gold in the game, and they are less willing to plunk down $20 for a piddly 30-40k gold. Think about it — if you are sitting on, say, close to a million gold, is it worth it to you to spend $20 on what amounts to petty cash for you? No, you will hold onto your $20 until you feel you are getting some value for it. Meanwhile, since fewer moneybags are offering tokens for sale in the auction house, the asking price for the ones that are there will go up, even if Blizz has its thumb on the scale to prevent rapid escalation.

In general — and I have nothing but anecdotal evidence for this — I think there are more game-time buyers than there are $20-for-tokens buyers in the game. No matter how much time you may have to devote to playing WoW, eventually the gold cost of game time becomes too much. I know, for example, that several of my guildies who used to pay almost exclusively for their game time via tokens form the auction house have in the past couple of months unsubbed because they cannot keep up with earning 200k a month to pay for their subscription. And it seems that people who used to rather regularly plop down their credit card to Blizz in order to buy enough gold to make them happy in the game no longer are willing to do so. (Also, — as in real life — some people must spend every bit of gold as soon as they get it, while others feel like they always need more gold even if they have millions. Go figure.)

It is true there has been some significant overall inflation in the game. We saw a big jump in prices in WoD, when Blizz was pretty much handing out bags of gold through garrison missions, just to keep as many people playing as they could. The idea in Legion was for that kind of easy gold to go away, so as to tighten the gold supply and keep inflation in check. It absolutely did not happen. If anything, the inflation rate has increased in Legion. It is nothing, for example, for people to offer BoE gear in the auction house on my server for close to or even over 1 million gold. Even worthless crafted blue gear still goes for a couple thousand gold.

I suspect we are on the verge of, if not actual deflation, at least a temporary halt to more inflation. It is the end of the expansion. Pretty much no one will be buying gear at this point, whether expensive or cheap. Also, within a couple of weeks we will likely see a massive sell-off of all that leather, fish, ores, herbs stashes, etc. many people have been hoarding in their banks. It is all pretty worthless now anyway in terms of value for crafting. Even things like flasks and runes will be used less and less, driving down the cost of mats even more. Finally, some number of players who consider the game time tokens to be too costly will just unsubscribe for a couple of months rather than waste their gold on game time in a worn-out expansion.

So get those stacks of mats out of your bank now and throw them up for whatever gold you can get in the AH. You will be helping to stem the tide of inflation, and you might even make some gold. Whether it will be enough to finance your WoW habit for long depends on how gold-greedy the game’s wealthy players are. If we accept my premise that there are more players wanting the tokens from the AH than there are players — especially at the end of the expansion — willing to fork over real money for gold, then it seems likely the price of the tokens will remain very high. When BfA launches, there will be more players wanting the game tokens and also more players needing gold to buy expansive flasks and gear initially, so we will see what happens to the prices. But if there remains an imbalance in the number of players selling them and the number buying them, the bad news for many is that the gold price will continue to rise unless Blizz steps in and does some selective flooding of the token market to bring prices down.

As you can all tell, I am not an economist. But I know prices have gone up rather spectacularly in Legion, and I do not expect that trend to change in BfA. What that tells me is that it will become even more important for me to get my critical-profession alts up to speed as rapidly as possible, not necessarily to sell stuff, but as a gold-preserving measure allowing me to make my own stuff rather than deplete my gold stash paying for run-of the mill flasks and such.

And now my brain hurts. I need a beer. And a weekend. See you on the other side.